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As it stands: Plenty of Irish interest as the race to the Premier League reaches its climax

Here’s how things are shaping up in the English Championship with just two rounds of fixtures remaining.

PA-35818681 Aston Villa duo Scott Hogan and Conor Hourihane. Source: Tim Goode/PA Wire/PA Images

WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS MAY already have secured their spot in the English Premier League for the 2018-19 season, but 10 other clubs in the Championship are still in with a shout of achieving promotion with just two games each remaining.

With a 12-point lead at the top, a Wolves side that includes Republic of Ireland defender Matt Doherty have been crowned champions of England’s second tier for the fourth time.

Elsewhere, however, ahead of this weekend’s penultimate round of fixtures, three clubs are challenging for the other remaining automatic promotion place, while seven others have a mathematical chance of being the third team to go up via the play-offs.

Despite last night’s 3-1 defeat to Derby County, Cardiff City remain in pole position to be promoted automatically. The only other teams who can nudge them out of second place are Fulham and Aston Villa. One of those three sides will follow Wolves to the top flight when the Championship campaign concludes a week on Sunday, 6 May. The other two will have to resume their respective promotion bids via the play-offs.

Preston North End v Fulham - Sky Bet Championship - Deepdale Fulham's Cyrus Christie takes on Preston North End's Tom Barkhuizen. Source: Richard Sellers

Automatic promotion hopefuls

Cardiff City (86 points)

Irish interest: Winger Anthony Pilkington, capped nine times at senior level, and former Bohemians goalkeeper Brian Murphy, who were both among the substitutes for last night’s loss against Derby.

Remaining games: On Saturday they travel to Hull City (18th), before finishing their campaign at home on Sunday, 6 May against a Reading side (19th) who may need a result to avoid relegation.

Fulham (85)

Irish interest: Full-back Cyrus Christie, who came off the bench in Friday’s big win away to Millwall.

Remaining games: They host already relegated Sunderland (24th) on Friday evening and travel to Birmingham City (20th) — who may need a result to avoid dropping down to League One — on Sunday, 6 May.

Aston Villa (82)

Irish interest: Midfielders Glenn Whelan and Conor Hourihane, and striker Scott Hogan.

Remaining games: Tricky ties against two sides in the mix for the play-offs. They entertain Derby County (6th) on Saturday before heading to Millwall (7th) on Sunday, 6 May.

In the hunt for the play-offs

TABLE

With two of the four play-off places going to the sides above who fail to go up automatically, the following seven clubs will bid to fill the remaining two spots.

Middlesbrough (72)

Irish interest: Martin O’Neill’s first-choice goalkeeper Darren Randolph has been ever-present in the starting line-up this season following his move from West Ham United last summer.

Remaining games: Fellow promotion hopefuls Millwall (7th) travel to Middlesbrough this Saturday, before they conclude their season on Sunday, 6 May away to Ipswich Town (14th).

Derby County (71)

Irish interest: Defenders Richard Keogh and Alex Pearce, who both played in last night’s crucial win over Cardiff City.

Remaining games: They’re away to Aston Villa (4th) this Saturday but have home advantage for their final game of the season against relegation-threatened Barnsley (22nd) on Sunday, 6 May.

Millwall (69)

Irish interest: Former Sporting Fingal midfielder Shaun Williams and striker Aiden O’Brien, who featured in Martin O’Neill’s squad during the 2018 World Cup qualification campaign.

Remaining games: A difficult run-in as they go to Middlesbrough (5th) on Saturday before hosting Aston Villa (4th) on Sunday, 6 May.

Middlesbrough v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship - Riverside Stadium Middlesbrough goalkeeper Darren Randolph. Source: Richard Sellers

Brentford (68)

Irish interest: They’re captained by defender John Egan, while midfielder Alan Judge and Nigerian-born winger Chiedozie Ogbene — who was raised in Cork — recently made his first-team debut following his January move from Limerick FC.

Remaining games: They travel to struggling Barnsley (22nd) on Saturday and then host Hull City (18th) on Sunday, 6 May.

Preston North End (67)

Irish interest: Senior internationals Greg Cunningham, Alan Browne and Sean Maguire have all played regularly but Daryl Horgan hasn’t seen much game-time during a frustrating season on a personal level. In February, Adam O’Reilly was named in the first-team squad at the age of 16. Kevin O’Connor (Fleetwood Town), Andy Boyle (Doncaster Rovers) and Eoin Doyle (Oldham Athletic) are currently out on loan.

Remaining games: On Saturday they’re away to Sheffield United (11th), who are also in with an outside chance of promotion, before entertaining relegation strugglers Burton Albion (23rd) on Sunday, 6 May.

Bristol City (66)

Irish interest: Senior international winger Callum O’Dowda recently returned to action after missing over four months due to injury.

Remaining games: They travel to Nottingham Forest (17th) on Saturday and finish at home to fellow play-off hopefuls Sheffield United (11th) on Sunday, 6 May.

Bristol City v Hull City - Sky Bet Championship - Ashton Gate Callum O'Dowda of Bristol City is tackled by Hull City's Jarrod Bowen. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Sheffield United (66)

Irish interest: Left-back Enda Stevens has had an excellent first season with the Blades following his move from Portsmouth, while former U21 international Samir Carruthers is also part of the first-team squad at Bramall Lane.

Remaining games: They’re at home to Preston North End (9th) on Saturday before their finale away to Bristol City (10th) on Sunday, 6 May.

* * *

In the play-offs, the team that finishes third will play the team in sixth, with the teams in fourth and fifth meeting on the other side of the equation. Both ties will be contested over two legs. The winners will play each other for a place in the Premier League next season on Saturday, 26 May at Wembley.

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Paul Dollery

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